Friday, June 24, 2016

Film Friday: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

With the Brexit, I thought it would be a good time to review Captain America: Civil War. Oy vey. Where to being? How’s this: I really disliked this film.

Let me start by saying that I’m not the biggest fan of most comic book movies. Many lack depth and interesting characters, and they try to hide this by substituting tired recycled plot points, pathetic teenage-level family “issues,” and a CGI frosting that lasts so long you want to claw your way out of the theater exit to escape.

That said, there have been definite instances where these films have been done right. These are films that involve clever new plot twists, genuine characters with real relationships, and typically a strong sense of humor. The Avengers, like the Iron Man movies and the X-Men films, have generally fallen into this category. DC films, the putrid Fantastic Four and the Hulk movies have generally fallen into the other category.
During Captain America: Civil War, there is a fight at an airport in Germany where the two competing camps of Avengers do battle. Iron Man and his team have come to capture Captain America and his team. The fight is fun to watch. It’s surprising. It’s really funny at times. It highlights the genuine relationships between the characters. And it lets the actors flex the character muscles we have come to love.

The rest of the movie is a dark, depressing pile of sh*t that made me want to walk out.

Plot

Turn down the lights and suck the color rods from your eyes, because this is one of those films done in a brown and dark blue pallet. I thought we were rid of that crap, but apparently not. The film begins with a fight you can’t watch because it’s all shaky cam. Apparently, some guy decides to blow up some disease center in Africa (as if) so he can steal a killer virus. But his real plan seems to be to get captured and blow up Captain America. At the time, this makes sense, but it won’t if you think about it later.

Indeed, let me give you the plot in a nutshell. Some guy’s father was killed off-screen in Age of Ultron. Guy decides to blow things up, in the hopes that the Avengers will kill innocent people in the process, which will lead the UN to decide to force the Avengers to accept evil bosses, which will result in the Avengers splitting into two camps who will then fight to the death after Captain America decides to save his frenemie Bucky the Winter Soldier while Iron Man decides to try to kill him. Why go this Rube Goldberg way? Because no one but an Avenger can kill an Avenger.
See any holes in that one? How about every single thought.

Anyways, the guy blows stuff up, the UN is given power over the Avengers, there’s some fake talk about what is right, and Captain America and Iron Man split. The rest of the movie is a chase scene as Iron Man hunts down Captain America’s team and makes them all look sad in prison while we are constantly lectured about all the people who died that the Avengers didn’t care about.
The whole thing ends up in a CGI ice cave as we learn that the whole plot was a red herring just to make the Avengers fight. Yeah, ok.

Why I Really Disliked This Film

This movie is visually and spiritually dark. It is a nine hour two-hour-thirty-minute finger wag in your face stupidly accusing the heroes you have come to like of being cold-blooded murders. Not one single character throughout this film ever points out the millions of lives they’ve saved. Not one character outside the Avengers ever supports them at any point in this film. Not one single character ever gives a speech telling you why it is important that the Avengers be allowed to save people’s lives without first having to clear every sh*t they take with the UN. Even after the UN bureaucrats start imposing Nazi-like surveillance, sanctioning torture, and locking up the Avengers for disobedience no one suggests that they are wrong.
Only Captain America stands against them (with a couple blind followers) and all he does is whine about how bad he feels for everyone he’s killed.
Other than that happiness, the film is a depressing CGI assault of buildings being blown up by terrorist bombs or Avenger mistakes. The UN guys are monsters. The themes we run into over and over are “you killed my family and you don’t even know who they were!”... saw that a dozen times. Or you have Avengers admitting that they can’t control themselves. Or you have Bucky and Captain America talking about how bad things have gotten. Or you have Iron Man dealing with the death of his mother and father, which it turns out is a secret Captain America kept from Stark. You have Iron Man losing Pepper. Cap dealing with the death of Peggy Carter. The Black Panther dealing with the death of his father. How about Don Cheadle being paralyzed? Not a moment of this film, other than the airport, is light-hearted. It is an unrelenting downer trafficking in death, destruction and regret.
What’s worse, it’s all stolen! The film style was taken from Jason Bourne, as were the locations... all of them. The public turning against superheroes for the deaths they cause without thinking about the lives they save is so worn it should be considered abuse to use it. So is the weapon’s lab in the ice cave. Seen the prison too. Seen the vet recovering from being crippled. Seen the dead mentor, the “you killed my parents!,” the “you didn’t even care” and all the other “conflicts” too. Nothing in this film felt original. Nor did it feel organic.

A lot of people compared this film to Batman v. Superman, but that’s actually not the right comparison. This film is not Batman v. Superman... it’s Watchmen. This is a film about a group of corrupted superheroes who do the corrupt government’s bidding and find themselves banned because they scare people and now live in a dark cynical world.

Between this, the angry Fantastic Four and the trend toward “adult” (read: 30 year old man-child) storylies, this all bodes poorly for Marvel, which has seems intent on ending a golden age premised on films built around the interactions of fun, likeable characters as they fight villains who are destined to lose.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Comic-Con Advice and Thoughts

Howdy everyone! As you know, I just finished my first trip ever to a Comic-Con! I thought I would share some thoughts and tips with you in case you ever decide to go yourselves. So here are a couple thoughts...

First, some tips:

1. Get your tickets in advance. We had three days passes, so we had no problems. But Saturday sold out, and many people did get turned away. They had over 100,000 people on Saturday.
2. Bring a bag with some food and water in it. We had a Doctor Who/Tardis backpack! 😊 By and large, there was little food there to buy and the lines were VERY long. It wasn't as expensive as I expected, but getting to it was a pain. Drinks were about $2.50 each. Food was around $9 for a sandwich.

3. We stayed about five blocks away and walked. That was easiest. Parking near the Convention Center was a mess. We also could have taken the light rail, but we wanted to walk. We didn't try to drive in because it was just insane.

4. About half the people were in costume. You will see everything. We saw dinosaurs, daleks (a wheelchair costume), anime characters, movie characters, etc. There were dozens of Doctor Whos. Girls seemed to gravitate toward quasi-sexy anime characters, guys seemed to gravitate toward things in armor. There were people dressed like several musicians -- Prince, David Bowie, Meatloaf, the Beatles. There was a Carmen Sandiego. Tons of Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, anime. The most common costume was Deadpool for males and Harley (from Batman) for girls. That said, weight, body type, gender didn't matter, everyone was cool with anything. Whatever people wore, everyone liked it... and the self-made costumes were the most popular. I didn't hear one negative word from anyone all weekend about the costumes. And everyone we ask to take their picture was thrilled that we asked.

I would estimate the crowd was about 50/50 male to female, of all races, and there were lots of father/son and mother/daughter combos there -- in and out of costume. One of the cutest moments was a father/son Batman and Robin walking down the hallway together.
5. When you sign up, they should send you a link to an app with a schedule (they also have them in paper at the door). Look through it and figure out if you are interested in anything. We found that the BIG events were hardest to get into, but the smaller ones were no problem at all. My daughter got to meet several anime voice actors, a guy who taught us the basic phonetics of Japanese, and sat through some "how to" classes on cosplay and animation with no difficulty at all. That said, getting in to see Stan Lee proved impossible.

If they have a super special guest (like Stan Lee) and you want to get an autograph, it would be best to buy a VIP pass if they have them. There were only about 20 people around Stan Lee with VIP passes, but then well over 5,000 tried to see him at the public signing.

6. We enjoyed walking through the sale/merchandise floor (I would guess it was six high school gyms wide and three long). The seminars were great too -- wish we had gone to more of those. But the coolest thing was just seeing the costumes. For that, you can walk around, OR you can find some spot in the main hallway and everyone will walk right past you... several times. I estimate we walked about five miles a day, by the way. So keep that in mind. There were girls there doing it in major heels and I felt pretty bad for them by the end of the day. But you really can just find a place to sit and see a large part without all the walking we did.
7. It looks like a lot of the cosplay stuff takes place in the evenings, by the way. We plan to see more of that next time -- we were wiped out by six each night this time.

Finally, some thoughts.

We had an amazing time. It was really neat to see so many people just enjoying themselves. Half the crowd (or maybe even more) was women. A sizable chunk was black or Hispanic. There were some obviously gay people there too. All ages were represented as well. There were parents with kids, groups of friends, and even some single people. And the best thing of all... everyone got along happily. There was no anger. Everyone was polite and courteous. Everyone was happy to see everyone. There was immense creativity too. Not only in the costumes, but in the products people sold or displayed, and in hearing people talk about whatever "project" they had going in their lives (people walking around as well as people on stage).

So I highly recommend going to Comic-Con and just being a part of that world. It's the way society should be, and it shows how society can be.
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Film Friday: The Jungle Book (2016)

Disney has been "re-imagining" their classic animated films as live action films of late. Most have done really well at the box office, though frankly, undeservedly so. As a general rule, they've been poor copies of the originals with a few nods to modern cynicism and washed out storytelling. The Jungle Book is better than most, but not by much. It is an enjoyable film, but it underscores the problems with modern Hollywood.

Plot

By and large, the Disney re-imaginings have followed the storylines of the original animated films. There are changes around the edges and new themes and angles added, but generally, these have been re-tellings of the same story. Jungle Book falls into that same category and it mostly follows the original story. The story begins by introducing Mowgli as a member of the wolf pack. There is a drought. The animals all gather around a disappearing watering hole and call a water truce. At that point, Shere Kahn (Idris Elba) appears and says he will kill Mowgli because the script calls for it.
The wolves decide that the only safe place for Mowgli is the human village. Bahgeera (Ben Kingsley) agrees to take him there. As he goes, Shere Kahn attacks and they get separated. This lets Mowgli run into Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and Baloo (Bill Murray). Baloo tricks Mowgli into helping him get some honey he cannot reach and them promises to let him live a life of leisure in the jungle. Meanwhile, Shere Khan has killed the leader of the wolf pack and basically promises to keep killing hostages until Mowgli is handed over to him.

Bahgeera finds Mowgli again. He and Baloo argue. In the meantime, Mowgli saves a baby elephant with his gadgets. Oh, did I mention that Mowgli is every Asian kid ever put on screen by Steven Spielberg? Yep, he makes gadgets as needed to serve the script. (Good thing he's not fat or he wouldn't be able to stop eating.) Anyhoo, Mowgli runs away when Baloo agrees that he will only be safe in the village. This leads to King Louie (Christopher Walken), a bizarrely oversized ape inappropriately played like a mobster. Eventually, there's a final fight with Shere Khan.
Why This Film Wasn't Better

Generally speaking, Jungle Book was a good film. It held my attention and I didn't feel like I'd wasted my time or money. I do wonder though if I would have enjoyed it as much if I didn't have the original to pre-excite me about the film? I wonder this because throughout the movie I found myself most excited as I waited in anticipation to see how they would handle the introduction of the next iconic character. Watching the scenes themselves wasn't as interesting. So I wonder if I did not have a pre-love of the film coming in, would I have been as interested in this film? I'm not sure. One thing I do know, however, is that this film handicapped itself with a number of typical modern Hollywood mistakes.

The first mistake was the desire to fill every role with a famous actor: Elba, Walken, Murray, Johansson, Kingsley, etc. This has become par for the course in Hollywood because they think this will bring fans of the actors into the film. Unfortunately, few named actors are any good at voice work. And when you hire them to play themselves, as they did with Walken, you get some awful moments.
The problem here, at a fundamental level, was that many of the voices never fit. Elba and Kingsley were fine. Murray lacked the bass to play a giant bear and came across more as Garfield (a character his voice suited much more appropriately). Even without knowing the original Baloo as a comparison, Murray's Baloo voice was too small and too weak. Johansson was a mistake too. Now, I don't care that they made Kaa a woman, but they definitely picked the wrong woman. First of all, let's be honest: women in Hollywood are so interchangeable that there was no point in attaching a famous name to the voice. Her voice, like a bevy of other blonde T&A models, simply lacks interest, character or gravitas. It was entirely too bland to represent a giant, hypnotic python. For that, the voice needed to be more unsettlingly sweet. It needed a layer of menace. It needed an actress who could add those qualities to her voice, i.e. a genuine voice actress.

The real crime though was King Louie. The original King Louie is an amazing character. He's an insane-ish ape who has surrounded himself with fools so he can play the king who would be man. Voiced by the incomparable Louie Prima, he stand unique in the world of cartoon villains as a complex character who wants something so simple, yet so impossible, and wrongly thinks Mowgli can give it to him. Walken loses all of that subtlety, as well as Louie's charm. He plays Louie as if he were the Godfather, only with Walken's semi-retarded speaking style. This doesn't fit the jungle, or the movie, or the character.
None of these mistakes kill the movie, though Louie comes close, but they detract. Louie sucks. Baloo isn't all he should be. Kaa becomes forgettable.

The film does an amazing job with CGI, by the way. All of the landscapes are CGI and you'll never be able to tell. The sets are gorgeous and pull you into the jungle in a fantastic way. The only real flaw is again King Louis. His was made too large to make sense in this world.

The other problem is character. Character remains a problem for modern Hollywood, as again seen in this film. In the animated film, Shere Khan is pure menace with class, always acting with reason. Baloo is a true, loyal friend who just happens to be irresponsible when it comes to life. Bahgeera is a loyal friend, but a worrier. Louie we've already discussed. Kaa is a menacing villain, but a coward. And Mowgli... Mowgli really is the main character. The story is about him meeting these characters as he tries to run away from his fear so he can remain in childhood forever. He is eventually forced to face his fears, to grow up, and to become a man. This is symbolized in the end when Mowgli goes to the man village of his own accord to be with the girl.
The remake lost most of that. In this film, Shere Khan is menace for the sake of menace. His motivation in hating Mowgli is messy and confused. It's implied that it's part sport, part fear of Mowgli getting fire, and part revenge for an injury Shere Khan suffered while killing Mowgli's father. Baloo is Garfield... a snarky reluctant hero. Kaa is a plot point. And Mowgli... well, Mowgli's just passing through the film as we watch the other characters do their thing. He's not looking to grow up. He's not running from any fear. In fact, he's not afraid of Shere Khan at all. He's not looking to grow up or become a man either, and he doesn't leave for the village at the end -- he remains perpetually a child in the jungle. What drives his character eventually is revenge as he learns that Shere Khan killed his father... because every event in a film must be tightly connected to the main character these days. Heaven help you if the final fight of the film doesn't sprout from the seeds of cosmic destiny.

Hollywood has lost the ability to tell a story that can be universally understood. A boy running from his fears is universally understood. A boy becoming a man is universally understood. The struggle between the worrier and the irresponsible is universally understood. Villains who act out of self-preservation (Kaa), fear (Khan), and jealousy (Louie) are understood. These are all things each of us experiences in our lives and things we instantly recognize and understand. But this film has none of those. This film replaces all of that with a standard revenge film and a series of set pieces.

That's why even though this wasn't a bad film, it wasn't a great film either and it certainly wasn't anywhere near the level of the original.
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Monday, June 13, 2016

Ghost-bust-in-the-making

You know they're remaking Ghostbusters, right? Well, things aren't going well and it's the fault of all you misogynist men!! It's not MY movie that sucks, it's you!! Boo hoo hoo! Good grief.

Let me start with the obvious. Ghostbusters is a classic film. It should not be remade. It is impossible to take a movie like this, where everything in it was just perfect, and improve it... lightening in a bottle cannot happen twice. The best you can do is make a poor knock off. What's more, NO ONE was calling out for this film to be remade because it didn't have any weaknesses that could be fixed or alternatives that could be explored. But the powers that be in Moneywood crave money. So they decided to remake Ghostbusters.

Having decided to start down this path of doom, they hired a hack -- Paul Feig -- who did what hacks always do. He decided to hire current "names" to fill the roles and let them do their thing. In other words, he decided not to make "Ghostbusters," he decided to make a Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig film that uses Ghostbusters as a setting. If you watch the trailer, you will see this. You will see McCarthy doing her "I'm fat and stupid" routine over and over and Wiig doing her "I'm an incompetent drunken slut" routine. So not only does no one want to see Ghostbusters exploited, but the people who would do not want to see a McCarthy/Wiig comedy vehicle. That's like giving Gone With The Wind to Judd Apatow.
That's bad.

Then Feig made his brilliant decision (snicker). He did what hacks always do in this situation. He made sure to change the genders of the characters because that generates controversy and scores free publicity. It outrages the fans who don't want to see the characters they love pointlessly changed and they spread the word because they can't stop talking, it brings the approval of Hollywood feminists because it means women replacing men, and it gives the hack a big smuggie.

Finally, said hack films the most pathetic, washed out, derivative crap you can imagine using the new cast.

Well, they released the first trailer and waited for the kudos to come streaming in. Instead, they got sh*t on. The trailer promptly became the most hated trailer of all time on Youtube. The production was in trouble. So what is a hack to do? Well, Feig and his team have gone on the offensive. They are telling everyone that if you don't like this film, it's because you are a woman hater... a misogynist. Yep. Here's a quote from a recent discussion Feig gave on the subject:
“I have been hit with some of the worst misogynistic stuff,” said Feig, adding that prior to Ghostbusters he was oblivious to the darker sides of the internet. “I used to [hear] that people had haters and I was, like, 'How does that happen?'”
Uh no. The problem isn't that you did the film with chicks. The problem is that (1) you did the film, (2) you made the most derivative crap imaginable -- watch the trailer and you will groan at how overused the jokes are and how oblivious the actresses seem to the fact they are blandly repeating things that have been done a million times, (3) you turned Ghostbusters into a vehicle for two lousy single-note comedians, and (4) you are getting snotty about the criticism.

The first trailer was truly awful. It included things like the fat girl trying to crowd surf at a concert and getting dropped. Yawn. This weekend, I saw a new trailer. It has removed some of the most obviously hack material, but it includes things like one of the characters explaining to each of the others who they are as characters and what their skills are. Talk about hack writing! The rest looks like filler. The audience I saw the trailer with didn't react once to any moment in the trailer. That's how bad it was. It might as well have been an add to go buy insurance in the lobby.

There are times I wish I could short a movie. This thing is a horrible idea done about as poorly as possible and now they are trying to shame people into seeing it because their attempt at generating controversy blew up on them. In fact, I'm laughing that Feig's cynical attempt to anger fans resulted in actual fan anger and has cost him big time. His failure is well deserved.

Thoughts?
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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Update...

Sorry about the lack of film reviews lately. The scheduling issues should be over starting this week and I expect to start having two articles each week again from now on -- Tuesday and Friday. I'm still debating if I should do more Summer of 70s films or start Summer of 80s or perhaps Summer of Classics. Any thoughts?
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Monday, June 6, 2016

Alternate Ending: Return of the Jedi

For a long time now, the ending of Return of the Jedi has bothered me. Despite having such a great setup from the first two movies, I've often felt that the ending of Return of the Jedi was weak. The impact is missing. Well, I was thinking about this last weekend and it finally struck me both what was wrong with the ending and how to improve it.

The problem as I see it with the ending of Return of the Jedi is that it lacks emotional punch. This comes from the characters not being consistent with their motivations. For example, Luke has been taught to be "a Jedi." We are told over and over that a Jedi will not fight out of anger. Luke accepts this and even lets himself be captured by Vader with the hope of turning him to the good side. This is reminiscent of Ben Kenobi letting Vader kill him, a tremendously emotional moment.

But Lucas doesn't know how to write a dramatic ending without a fight, so he gives Luke a pretext to get angry and start fighting -- the discovery that Leah is a Jedi. That's both inconsistent with his Jedi training and it makes all of his motivations throughout the earlier part of the film irrelevant. Essentially, Luke's Jedi training is now pointless.

Vader also gets shortchanged. Vader was once good, but got co-opted. Luke thinks he can be saved and there is some hint of that, but Vader doesn't really struggle with it at all until the Emperor is on the verge of killing Luke. Then he suddenly saves Luke and thereby saves himself. Meh. Too easy, too obvious.

The Emperor too gets shortchanged. He has this influence over Vader, but he never gets to show it. There is no struggle for Vader's soul. He sucks at converting Luke too. And besides that, this most powerful of Sith Lords is basically chairbound.

The result of these defects is that the finale of the film, the climax of climaxes... is kinda dull. Want proof? Ask yourself if anyone talks about the lightsaber battle being all that special.

So think about this instead...

The scene begins aboard the Death Star. Luke has given himself up to convert Vader. It seems to have failed. The Emperor makes a sales pitch to Luke, but Luke holds firm. Luke, at the same time, keeps trying to convert Vader. Finally, the Emperor decides to switch to torture. When he does, Luke frees himself and escapes into the dark maze of the unfinished room.

The Emperor orders Vader to hunt Luke down and kill him. Vader, however, shows conflicting emotion and hesitates. His hesitation angers the Emperor. The Emperor takes his own lightsaber and goes after Luke, leaving Vader out of the chase.

As the Emperor hunts Luke, Luke is doing his best to re-awaken Anakin Skywalker inside Vader by talking about father-son relationships. It frustrates the Emperor that he needs to fight Luke for Vader's soul and he becomes increasingly angry. Meanwhile, Luke remains calm. He refuses to draw his lightsaber. He knows he cannot beat the Emperor in a fight because the Emperor is too good of a swordsman, plus he knows that if he draws his lightsaber, Vader will respond instinctively to the danger and will revert to the Dark Side. He also realizes that if he does fight, he will violate his Jedi beliefs and will corrupt himself. Hence, he is stuck with nonviolence.

Finally, the Emperor finds Luke and starts destroying the object blocking him from Luke. At this point, Vader finally loses control and blocks the Emperor's blow. The Emperor pushes him aside and says that he has taken everything else from Vader, he will now take his son. Vader goes into rage mode and brutally attacks the Emperor with his lightsaber. The Emperor is stunned by the force Vader uses because he combines both the Force and the Dark Side of the Force in his attack because he now has a foot in both camps. Vader overpowers the Emperor and knocks him to the ground with his blows. Then in one final strike, Vader hits the Emperor's lightsaber so hard that he cuts through the Emperor's lightsaber blade (a seeming impossibility) and kills the Emperor. However, using this much force mortally wounds Vader and he dies after a quick discussion with Luke about regret.

The end.

I think this would be much more true to the ideals of the characters. I think the battle for Vader's soul would be much more dramatic than the half-assed lightsaber fight between Vader and Luke. I think the symbolism of cutting the Emperor's lightsaber in half would be amazing and would become the most talked about moment in the entire series. It would also finish the same cirle of betrayal that the Emperor started when he got Vader to betray Ben.

Thoughts?
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Monday, May 30, 2016

Guest Review: Orca (1977)

by Rustbelt

Orcinus Orca. Doesn’t that name just scream terror, horror, and everything else that makes your blood run cold? What, no? Really? Why not? It’s a KILLER whale! Maybe it’s because we’re just used to images of tamed versions of these whales doing tricks at Sea World, which we would never expect out of a carcharodon carcharias. Maybe, because they’re air-breathing mammals like us, we can’t conceive of them performing acts of cruelty, like a carcharodon carcharias. Maybe it’s because some of us mistakenly think they’re just too cute to be evil, unlike the carcharodon carcharias. Or maybe you saw this film that took the leather-jacket-wearing cool out of killer whales forever.

We have the insanity of Italian super-producer Dino de Laurentiis to thank for this celluloid headache. Apparently, after watching Jaws - which he must have thought was a minor indie film that no one would recognize or interpret as having been copied - he ordered his producer “by the bones of Amen-Kara, and the many moons of Jupiter to find a fish tougher and more terrible than the great white!” Orca was born.
The Plot

Orca is the doomed story of Richard Harris, a fisherman in Newfoundland who captures sea creatures for aquariums. His name is Nolan, but we’ll call him Quody as he seems to be a combination of Jaws’s Captain Quint and Chief Brody. He rescues a pretty (duh!) marine biologist named Dr. Bedford (let’s call her ‘Hoopette!’), from a great white shark. Said shark is then eaten by a killer whale. Duh, duh, duuuhhh...
We then see Hoopette is about as sane as Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park III, lecturing her students on how killer whales are the most intelligent, creative, understanding, formidable, and psychic (?!) creatures in the universe. Perhaps this is only to set up Quody’s next move, as he shows as much intelligence as the average mid-card victim in a Friday the 13th flick. (You know, the one who- 70 minutes in - walks into a dark room where Jason couldn’t possibly be hiding because they heard a kitty and want to comfort it. How precious…ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma!) Okay, back to this film...

Quody’s crew captures another killer whale. Complications arise when the creature miscarriages on deck and the whale’s mate - the one that earlier killed the shark - screams in agony. He attacks the boat, killing one seaman and injuring crewmember Bo Derek. The FIEND! Cutting his losses, and ignoring the black market bounty he could collect from Planned Parenthood, Quody dumps the corpses overboard and heads back to port. To his astonishment, he finds the female on the beach the next day, with the living whale still screaming at him from a distance. Hoopette arrives to tell him it’s a challenge and it will be a fight to the death between them. Uh-huh...
From here on, it’s your standard revenge between a bully and the reluctant challenger being pulled into a main event showdown. In rapid order, the whale destroys some boats, breaks vital fuel lines, sinks Quody’s dockside home, bites off Bo Derek’s leg (that TERRIBLE fiend!), and performs leaps. Quody, Hoopette, and some redshirts then head out to sea, following the whale to the site of Seaside Springslam ’77.

After killing the redshirts, the whale sinks the boat near some icebergs and traps Quody on an ice island by breaking a berg and pushing it all by itself. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. You know, this scene has raised questions and been commented on by several notables. Those comments, among others, include:
Science: “I quit.”
The Civil Ice Patrol: “Why are we wasting our lives out here?”
The Wreck of the Titanic: “YOU GOTTA BE KIDDIN’ ME!”
Long story short, the whale flips Quody through the air to his death. The whale dives under the ice, presumably to its death by drowning. Hoopette waits on a ‘berg as a chopper arrives to rescue her.

What Went Wrong?

What went wrong? How about the starring beast? As noted, the killer whale was selected because it can potentially be seen as more dangerous than the great white. And, indeed, such whales have been known to kill great whites in real life. The problem, however, lies in the portrayal.

The whale is shown as having human-level intelligence and emotions. And while humanization might seem like a good idea, it reaches levels of sheer absurdity. How does the whale know where Quody lives? How would it know when he’s on the beach in order to scream at him? How would it know the importance of fuel lines and that cutting them would hurt the village and cause the villagers to turn against Quody? I’ll stop here before I fill the page.
Also, we see the creature too much. There are tons of shots of the whale swimming through an obvious pool filled with non-ocean, green-tinted water matched against an unconvincing miniature of Quody’s dockside house on a blue set that doesn’t fit the floor plan of the soundstage the actors inhabit. All the while, the whale swims like it’s playing around at Sea World with Flipper. Though, Ennio Morriconne’s Halloween-esque music says it should be plotting in a dungeon with Freddy Kreuger. Uh, tone and buildup, anyone? This film is trying way too hard while going in all the wrong directions.

Contrast that with Jaws, where the shark was presented as a force of nature. It kills and eats people because that’s what it does. It doesn’t pick targets. The problems on land - the fear and devastation of the summer tourist season- are natural, believable, and very real reactions. No personal vendettas are needed. Add in the fact that we don’t see the shark very much (a move forced by problems with the mechanical shark), which makes it feel like a presence that could appear at any time or place. ‘Less is more’ is definitely preferable for this scenario.

Bland, Boring Humans

In many ways Orca desperately wants to be an art house version of Jaws. The characters philosophize endlessly about the Quody-whale feud and go back-and-forth with changing opinions every five minutes. It’s like the possible result of Joss Whedon and Vince Russo being fused into one, terrible playwright.

We get a lot of arty shots of the whale, the village, and underwater ice. There are even several shots of Quody and the whale reflected in each other’s eyes. Okay, etheral camerawork. We get it. Or maybe they were trying to distract us from the characters, all of whom seem to be suffering from bipolar disorder. Think about this:

Quody starts as a tough fisherman. After the female whale washes up on the beach, he goes cowardly and refuses to fight the surviving whale. Then, he claims he’s worried about other peoples’ safety, but after his house is destroyed and he gets berated by everyone he knows, he goes full Ahab and heads out after the animal, no matter how many die.

Hoopette... um, whose side is she on? At first, she’s a classic misanthrope who admires whales more than people. She berates Quody and calls him a barbarian for killing the female whale, but then she calls him a coward for not meeting the whale’s challenge. Then she interferes with his first attempt to kill the whale with dynamite. But then, on the iceberg, she demands that he shoot the thing. On behalf of all men, I would like to say: “Make up your mind, lady!” She must only exist to point the plot in the direction the filmmakers are guessing it should go.

And then there’s the crew who are loyal to Quody until the boat goes too far north and gets covered in ice like the Time Bandit during opie season. Each one decides it’s time to turn back, attempts to change the boat’s course, and gets eaten by the whale in due course. (I guess the whale won’t let common sense intervene any more than Hoopette.) The Wise Old Indian who goes with them suffers the same fate.
In Jaws, we have no caricatures. Everyone acts the way we would expect them to act. The mayor, the tourists, law enforcement, etc. all make sense. We spend most of the film watching their reactions, which draws us into the story. Fortunately, they’re also distinct, memorable, and highly quotable. Plus, their personalities play perfectly into the conclusion. For instance, once the equally egotistical Quint and Hooper are out of the way, Brody - who hates the water - is left to face the shark himself. (Did any one else notice that Quint is ultimately overconfident, as Hooper implies? Or that Hooper, at the end, is a clear coward, as Quint implies?) We’re so invested in his feud with the shark and the scene itself that it’s easy to forget the tank probably wouldn’t explode like that. Who cares? Screw you, Mythbusters! This scenes rules!

No such thing in Orca.
Aftermath

This movie was a bust, for obvious reasons. However, it seems to have been a favorite of Richard Harris, who defended the film all the way to his Marcus Aurelius days. However, the bosses at Universal Studios didn’t share Harris’ affections. Two years later, in 1979, one of the opening scenes of Jaws 2 featured a badly mutilated killer whale carcass washed up on the beach and a scientist telling Chief Brody that there are nastier predators in the ocean. Whether this is a case of “Take that!” or a total F-U, I will let you be the judge.

So, what do you guys think?
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Film Friday: The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

The Devil’s Advocate is an interesting film. In many ways, it is deeply flawed to the point of driving me nuts. But it has something that always draws me back in. What is that? At its core, The Devil’s Advocate is a fascinatingly subtle film centered around a philosophical debate surrounding the morality of the idea of devil’s advocacy itself. What am I talking about? Read on.

Plot

The story begins with Gainesville, Florida attorney Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) defending a school teacher accused of child molestation. Lomax has an “unbeaten” streak in trials, but this case is hopeless. Lomax, however, refuses to lose. He gathers his resolve and tears the young girl apart on the stand and gets his client acquitted. Of course, the client is guilty and Lomax’s victory will result in tragedy.
After the trial, a representative of a New York City law firm offers Lomax a lot of money to help pick a jury for a trial in New York City. Lomax agrees and the jury brings back a not guilty verdict. After this, John Milton (Al Pacino), the head of the firm, offers Lomax a job with the firm. Lomax accepts and moves his young wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) to New York City with him. They immediately find themselves hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

Lomax is then tasked to defend a billionaire, Alex Cullen (Craig T. Nelson), who is accused of murdering his wife. Lomax’s life soon begins to unravel. His wife becomes paranoia and worries that he’s having an affair. She is told that she is infertile and she tries to kill herself at a critical time for Lomax after Milton rapes her in a dream; Lomax doesn’t believe her. At the same time, Lomax discovers that the firm is engaged in shady practices. The Justice Department is after the firm. People die around the firm. He fights with the firm’s managing partner Eddie Barzoon. Lomax’s mother tells him that Milton is the Devil and that he also happens to be Lomax’s father. And he realizes that his clients are lying and are forcing him into unethical positions.

Rough day.
As everything climaxes for Lomax, Milton tells Lomax that he is really the Devil and that Lomax is actually his son. He wants Lomax to join him and together they will use the law to destroy the world.

An Interesting Film

There are many things that drive me nuts with The Devil’s Advocate. The legal aspects of the film are utterly fake. Basically, anything you see in a courtroom is not how it really happens. I don’t understand why Satan would hire an Eddie Barzoon. Surely, he can find someone a good deal sharper and more reliable amongst his minions. Milton talks about using the law to destroy the system, but the trials in which they engage seem rather minor for the purpose. Milton’s big speech revealing his plan is utter nonsense, as is his verbal attack on Barzoon as Barzoon is hunted down and killed by Milton’s agents. Examine the sentences of either speech without Al Pacino overacting in your face and you’ll see that they make no sense at all.
In a normal movie, this would be enough to turn me off. But The Devil’s Advocate isn’t a normal movie. As I said above, The Devil’s Advocate is a fascinatingly subtle film. It takes on the question of whether or not we have pushed the idea of devil’s advocacy too far to the point of justifying immorality. What’s more, it suggests that we have blinded ourselves to this fact.

To understand this, let me first explain what a devil’s advocate is because this is important. A devil’s advocate is someone who adopts a position they believe to be wrong, immoral or false merely for the sake of argument for the purpose of forcing another to defend against or explain away that position. The key here is that they adopt that position only for the sake of argument... they don’t actually support the position or act in accordance with it.

Unfortunately, too many people seem to have lost this critical aspect of devil’s advocacy. Instead, they have morphed the idea into a justification for letting them act in immoral ways. For example, advertisers might push a product with claims they know are not true on the basis that their jobs is to advertise, not be regulators of truth. Cops and prosecutors enforce laws they see as immoral on the basis that their job is to enforce the law, not make it. And lawyers... well, lawyers are the worst.
Attorney are often charged with representing people they consider repugnant or guilty or with whom they don’t agree, and the rules of ethics excuse this behavior. Basically, the rules by which attorneys operate let them separate themselves from their clients to such a degree that many attorneys can happily go all out to represent monsters without ever feeling responsible for the consequences of these people being set free to continue their horrors.

What The Devil’s Advocate does is ask if we are able to see this problem. Indeed, the entire film is centered around this. Lomax begins the story by representing a man he knows to be guilty. And rather than letting the man be punished, he destroys a little girl to save his client. Each of the clients he represents at Milton’s firm present similar dilemmas for him. Likewise, he sees that his wife is falling apart and needs his help, but again, he tells himself that he can act in contradiction to his beliefs and principles long enough to achieve his purposes and then he will take care of her. Barzoon and the Justice Department both warn Lomax that Milton’s firm is evil, but Lomax again hides behind a devil’s advocate argument that lets him ignore the misdeeds he sees on the basis that he’s not responsible for them personally. At each step in the story, when people try to warn him that he is acting morally incorrect, he dismisses their concerns on the basis of some need to play devil’s advocate, but he goes beyond that in each instance and he acts immorally rather than merely adopting an immoral position solely for the sake of argument.
This is really clever. It’s also really refreshing. Whereas Hollywood typically makes characters into cardboard because anyone can understand cardboard, Lomax’s behaviors are anything but cardboard. He is the embodiment of an excuse that allows you to defend an intolerable evil... which is exactly what a devil’s advocate does, and then he becomes the evil himself.

So what about the ending?
It is interesting to me that the final scenes between Milton and Lomax are such cartoonish gibberish because everything up to that moment was subtle and powerful. But perhaps that is the point the screenwriter was making? Perhaps, the ultimate point is that it took this level of bombastic idiotic over-the-top cartoon evil before Lomax, an otherwise very intelligent man, awoke to what he was doing: you turned a blind eye when you represented a child molester... you turned a blind eye when your wife fell apart... you turned a blind eye when your company engaged in criminal activities... when you cheated in court... when you helped a murder... and you only finally opened your eyes when Satan himself was acting like a cartoon villain in your face! Perhaps that is the point, that we should examine how often in our own lives we excuse the consequences of our actions as not being our responsibility.

Or maybe it was just poor writing.

Thoughts?
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Friday, May 13, 2016

No Films Grrr

Sorry about the lack of a film review, folks. Believe it or not, I can't find anything worth reviewing at the moment. I tried several recent films this week and they all just left me feeling blah and like I had nothing to say. I may need to do something like "The Summer of 80's."
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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Game of Thrones Open Thread

By Kit

Well, we had some pretty big stuff happen Sunday night on Game of Thrones. I decided to pick it back up after catching last season's finale.

If you want a glimpse of what happened, here. MAJOR SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!



Yep, Jon Snow is alive, Tyron came face to face with the dragons, Arya is still blind but may finally be regaining her sight (at the cost of her identity), Ramsey Bolton behaved like a sociopathic dickhole (i.e., he behaved like himself), and Jon Snow is alive. Thoughts?

Surprised? Or not at this twist even blind Arya Stark saw coming.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Some Thoughts On Django Unchained

So, I got this interesting email today. It came from a college student who had read my article on why Blazing Saddles couldn’t be made today and she asked if I thought that Django Unchained was an effective racial satire. I thought I would share my answer with you folks and see what you thought. Here goes.

As a general rule, I've found Tarantino's work to be brilliant. He has both a gift for dialog (particularly seen in Public Fiction) and a gift for figuring out how to take things that should shock and disgust us and instead turning those into funny and often enlightening moments. Unfortunately, I think these gifts failed him in Django Unchained, and rather than making a clever racial satire, he ended up making what really amounts to a revenge film.

Where Brooks and Pryor succeed so brilliantly was in pinpointing things that a lot of people still believed were true either out of fear, stupidity or ignorance. They then twisted these stereotypes to expose how silly they were. A great example is when the "superior" white cowboys running the rail crew tell Clevon Little and his friends to sing a black "work song" and they sing "I get no kick from champagne." This mocks the white stereotype that poor black people sing spirituals, and it does so by showing them singing a high-class elegant song sung by Cole Porter. Basically, it shows that black culture has aspects that are very high class indeed, and it thereby disproves the stereotype. Then Brooks goes further and has the white cowboys proceed to make fools of themselves trying to explain what they perceive to be black culture as the blacks laugh at them. This mocks the intelligence level of the people who bought into the stereotype in the first place. The end result is that everyone laughs and the white audience feels ashamed if they had thought like the cowboys did.
Prior's satire is similar in the sense that he points out stereotypes that obviously aren't true and then he essentially says, "we're just humoring you dumb people." Again, everyone laughs and the people who bought into the stereotype feel stupid and ashamed to re-assert it.

The keys in both cases are (1) stereotypes which are the result of ignorance, (2) and which clearly are not true or which can be debunked easily, and (3) turning the joke so that anyone who claims to believe the stereotype will feel stupid and ashamed for doing so.

Tarantino doesn't do this.

First of all, the characters Tarantino uses are not unintentionally racist because they are ignorant. They are intentionally racist because they are vicious and hateful and they view blacks as less than human. No one sitting in the audience will identify with those characters. That limits the ability of the film to make people re-evaluate themselves. By comparison, there are many characters in Blazing Saddles or in Pryor's routines that anyone can identify with. Moreover, it changes the film from being a satire about race in our culture to being a satire of hateful racists.

Secondly, Tarantino doesn't really expose modern stereotypes. Instead, he attacks an entire era. So whereas Brooks and Pryor picked out things modern whites may have wrongly believed about blacks, Tarantino really doesn't address modern themes. Hence, while Brooks and Pryor are saying, "Wow, does anyone really believe this anymore?" Tarantino is saying "Wow, were the people in the post-Civil War South rotten." That's a big difference.

Third, rather than showing us the error of our thinking, as Brooks and Pryor did so well, Tarantino just has the main character brutalize the racists. So rather than having a film that constantly asks us, "You weren't stupid enough to think like this, were you?" Tarantino instead gave us a film where the hero runs around killing everyone whose views he doesn't like. And while this may be satisfying for some people, it doesn't ultimately change any minds. To the contrary, I would suspect that it actually is more likely to go the other way by confirming to people that they should be afraid because "those people hate you." (With "those people" being both the whites who hate the black hero and the black hero who gets revenge against the whites.) In other words, whereas Brooks and Pryor told us that we better change our thinking because everyone is laughing at us, Tarantino is telling blacks "whites are racist" and telling whites "watch out or blacks will start killing you."

So ultimately, I don't see Django Unchained as being an effective satire about race.

Thoughts?
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Film Friday: CHAPPiE (2015)

Though I doubt Director Neill Blomkamp would admit this, but his latest film CHAPPiE is Robocop 2. Robocop 2 was a fun, though flawed movie. CHAPPiE, on the other hand, sucked. In fact, they should have called it CRAPPiE. Skip this one.

The Plot

Robocop 2 is the story of a man who has been turned into a robot and now works as a police officer in Detroit. The evil corporation that built him decides they need to destabilize Detroit so they can sell their new combat robot the ED-209. They want to give the ED-209 a chance to show what it can do in terms of restoring order. To do this, they corrupt Robocop’s programming and make him useless, letting crime run rampant. Eventually, Robocop frees himself from the programming and he takes on the evil ED-209 robot built by the evil corporation and destroys it.

Now tell me if this sounds familiar.
CHAPPiE is the story of a robot who works as a police officer in Johannesburg, South Africa who gets turned into a man, or at least becomes sentient. A key employee (Hugh Jackman) at the evil corporation that built him decides he needs to destabilize Johannesburg so he can sell his new combat robot (let's call it, hmm, how about the ED-209a?). He wants to give the ED-209a a chance to show what it can do in terms of restoring order. To do this, he corrupts all the police robots and shuts them down, letting crime run rampant. Eventually, CHAPPiE’s friends teach him morality (or at least a sense of revenge) and then he takes on the evil ED-209a robot built by the evil employee and destroys it.
There is a twist at the very end which is meant to "elevate" the film, but honestly you won’t care. Basically, CHAPPiE is a police robot which gets destroyed by the evil gang from The Road Warrior. Rather than scrap him, the Indian scientist from Short Circuit realizes that in death, CHAPPiE has become alive. Don’t ask the film to explain it though, because it won't. Dr. Short Circuit tries to take CHAPPiE home to work on him, but he gets kidnapped by the Road Warrior gang who want their own police robot. Dr. Short Circuit gives them the robot and they name him and feed him and teaching him how to be white trash. Soon, he’s garbling his lines in ghetto South African, he’s wearing rapper gear, and he’s jacking cars. Isn’t that cute? Anyways, at the end, CHAPPiE figures out how to transfer his consciousness into another robot. He does the same for the dying Dr. Short Circuit and for the dead white trash chick who taught him nothing redeeming. Gee.
Oh, and he brutally beats Hugh Jackman to near death after Jackman kills the Road Warrior gang, including the white trash chick, and Dr. Short Circuit.

This Film Sucked

I’ve said for a long time that Neill Blomkamp is a leftist. Even as other conservatives bizarrely thought that District 9 was somehow conservative, I noted the standard leftist anti-white, anti-male, anti-police, anti-military, anti-corporate, and anti-capitalism themes and undertones. Then came Elysium with its nonsense anti-white, anti-police, anti-corporate, anti-capitalism, and pro-universal healthcare themes. Now we have this. This time, you have evil white capitalist ex-military types who want to destroy a sentient robot who is so gosh darn ghetto cute. The evil Road Warrior gang is entirely white, of course.
Still, I could overlook his politics if his films didn’t suck. District 9 was sloppy and uncreative without any appealing characters. It also felt a LOT like the miniseries V. Elysium was derivative nonsense that substituted propaganda for plot. None of its characters were appealing either. This one... this one is a poor rip-off of Robocop 2. This gives the film an uncomfortable “I’ve seen this story before” feeling. Add in all the not-credible moments that go unexplained – like how CHAPPiE comes alive, why he would have no programming when he did but would quickly get all the programming he needs, why Dr. Short Circuit randomly visits the robot but the Road Warrior gang don’t kill him, etc. – and what you get is a movie that feels like nonsense. And finally, add in the utter lack of appealing characters once again.
Seriously, these characters are impossible to like. Obviously, you’re not supposed to like Jackman or the Road Warrior gang or the corporate president (Sigourney Weaver). The people you are supposed to like are Dr. Short Circuit, the white trash couple, and CHAPPiE himself. But Dr. Short Circuit is a random character whose motives are unclear and who feels like a plot convenience. When he dies at the end it’s hard to remember that he was even in the film anymore. White trash chick ostensibly wants to raise CHAPPiE as if he were a child, but she’s white trash with an ugly accent and the values of a gang banger. Listening to her “mother” a robot with the Religion for Dummies take on a human soul is hard to take. Then her boyfriend trains CHAPPiE to use the same pigeon English they do, to carry himself like a drug dealer, to carjack people, and to hurt people (but it’s funny because they’re rich!!). That makes them and CHAPPiE super hard to like.
In fact, by the time Jackman shows up with his evil capitalist military ED-209a robot, it seems pretty clear that killing off all the characters would be best for society... and probably for them too. It’s hard to like a movie like that, especially when the director doesn’t seem to realize that the characters he offers as the good, likable heroes are all rotten sh*ts who need a delousing and a serious prison-yard beating.

Honestly, this movie felt like an insult. Blomkamp insulted my intelligence by trying to do a hidden remake of Robocop 2, and playing the robot as childlike. He insulted my political and moral beliefs with his themes. He insulted my cultural sensitivities by trying to shove this gang banger culture in my face. And he insulted my time by not doing anything interesting or original at any point during the movie.

I’m glad I didn’t pay to see this turd.
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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Film Friday: The Boys From Brazil (1978)

Imagine a film starring Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Denholm Elliot, a dozen other people you know, and Steve Guttenberg. Imagine I told you it was a thriller with a very original idea that involved Nazis. Boo hiss! Imagine it was made during the same time period when Star Wars, Close Encounters, The Godfather and a dozen other classics were made. Sounds like a heck of a film, doesn’t it? Yeah, no.

Plot

The Boys From Brazil involves a secret plot by escaped Nazi war criminals now living in Brazil. The man coordinating the plot is the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele (Peck). As the film opens, Mengele’s scheme is uncovered by a young Nazi hunter (Guttenberg). He learns that Mengele and his team are planning to kill 94 men in several different European and North American countries. The reason for this is not clear. Guttenberg calls the famed Erza Lieberman (Olivier) to get his help. Lieberman has become discredited and cynical and refuses to help, however. Then Guttenberg is killed by Mengele.
Lieberman realizes that Mengele is behind the murder and decides he must take action. He begins to investigate the leads Guttenberg gave him before he died. While investigating, Lieberman runs across something strange. Each of the men slated to be killed has a similar profile (middle-age civil servant) and each has an identical, adopted son. Realizing very quickly that this cannot be a coincidence, and that the boys cannot be twins, Lieberman realizes they are clones.

We, of course, know that these boys are clones. What’s more, we know they are clones made from Adolph Hitler’s DNA. And the reason the 94 men have similar profiles and are being killed is that Mengele hopes to recreate Hitler by re-creating him genetically and then making each boy go through a similar childhood to the one Hitler had. He believes this will lead to a reincarnation of Hitler.
Meanwhile, the other Nazis order Mengele to stop his experiment, which is drawing too much heat. They also tell him to avoid Lieberman. Mengele violates his orders, however, and goes to kill Lieberman. This results in an odd showdown in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where one of the clones lets his dogs kill Mengele.

Why This Was A Turdburger

On paper, this film has amazing potential. Seriously, it offers Nazis, a sinister global plot, and tons of potential action. And best of all, the casting was top notch! Is Mengele’s plan a little weak? Sure, but in a well-done film you won’t have time to think about it until well after you’ve left the theater. So what went wrong? The failure of this film is a classic example of what happens when a writer/director thinks the set up is so strong that it sells itself. In fact, that idea permeates this film time and again leaving unsatisfied potential everywhere. Consider this...

The idea of a group of Nazi war criminals hatching a global plot that will ultimately lead to the rebirth of a new Nazi German under a cloned Adolph Hitler is a strong idea... at least on the surface. There are some definite problems with this. For one thing, Hitler took advantage of unique circumstances. So you can make all the clones you want, but unless you find another Germany in the Great Depression, they won’t be able to do anything. Further, history tells us that Hitler made as many ruinous mistakes as he made brilliant decisions. And by the end of the war, he had become such a drug-addicted mental case that he was ordering around phantom armies, shooting loyal subordinates, and abandoning hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fruitless deaths. Why recreate him? Recreate Stalin if anyone.

Anyways, that issue aside, the real problem is that once we know the scheme, there’s no sense of urgency to it. The film never once convinces us that the societies where these Hitler²s live are looking for a Hitler, nor does it suggest that the Nazis have political connections that would let them place these Hitler²s into power. So at best, this film tells the story of a plot that could one day evolve into a genuine scheme for power. That’s weak. Nor does the director substitute action to generate tension. There are a couple murders, but they are quite dull. There are no chases, no lucky escapes, and no fights. In each case, we’re supposed to be shocked by the fact of the murder rather than how it gets carried out. And that’s just the beginning.
Lieberman is meant to be the lone hero who still fights for justice when the rest of the world no longer cares. That’s a great character. But once again, the writer/director seem to think the existence of the character is enough. Indeed, he never really does anything throughout the film. He doesn’t trick the villains or defeat them in any way. All he does it travel to meet people Guttenberg has identified. Even when he finally seems to put together Mengele’s plot, he does nothing with it. He just waits until Mengele comes to kill him, then someone else kills Mengele, and then the film ends.

In fact, throughout this film, both the Mengele character and the Lieberman character underwhelm. Lieberman is meant to come across as noble, tenacious and resolute. But Olivier seems to think that his being a Jew who spends his life hunting Nazis is enough to give the character life, so he just stumbles around meekly as the plot magically plays out for him. Mengele, on the other hand, is a Nazi who did cruel experiments on death camp victims. Just like Olivier, Peck thinks this is enough to make the character. So he swaggers around and barks orders and he shoots people casually, but that’s about all he gives you to feel his evil. There’s never anything to let you into this guy’s mind or to explain his actions. In fact, neither actor does anything to give you any more insight into the character than you would get from knowing their background. It’s like being given a sports car and then letting it sit in the driveway.
The ending is another example. The ending involves a one on one battle of wits between Mengele himself and Lieberman for the soul of one of the Hitler² boys, with the loser to be torn apart by dogs! Sounds exciting doesn’t it? What’s more, when Mengele loses, there is the delicious irony that he is killed because he made these boys evil. Sounds great, right? Well, once again, the writer/director thought the setup was enough. So when the scene occurs, almost nothing happens. Mengele has a gun and wounds Lieberman at the outset. Then they both sit down and say things to the Hitler². Neither one is particularly convincing. There is no discussion of the kid’s destiny. There is no battle of philosophies or moralities. There’s no ticking clock to add urgency to the moment. They both just kind of say, “pick me!” and the boy decides. Yawn.

This problem repeats itself throughout. At every turn, the film relies on the setup itself to hold the audience’s interest and it does nothing to develop interest independently. Even the presence of the Nazis is done lazily. You see one brief moment where you have some people in Nazi uniforms at a ball, but there’s no sense that these people truly have an ideology, a goal, or an organization that is capable of doing anything more than holding a ball in Brazil.

The end result of this is a film filled with potential which never once lives up to that potential. And that makes the film boring. This film failed scene by scene.

Thoughts?
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